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The Scientific World Journal
Volume 2014, Article ID 487563, 9 pages
Research Article

Connecting Soil Organic Carbon and Root Biomass with Land-Use and Vegetation in Temperate Grassland

1School of Natural Resource Sciences Range Science Program, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58108-6050, USA
2Natural Sciences, Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL 32085-1027, USA
3Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078-6013, USA
4Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
5Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Ecology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

Received 19 July 2014; Revised 15 September 2014; Accepted 16 September 2014; Published 20 October 2014

Academic Editor: Antonio Paz González

Copyright © 2014 Devan Allen McGranahan et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Soils contain much of Earth’s terrestrial organic carbon but are sensitive to land-use. Rangelands are important to carbon dynamics and are among ecosystems most widely impacted by land-use. While common practices like grazing, fire, and tillage affect soil properties directly related to soil carbon dynamics, their magnitude and direction of change vary among ecosystems and with intensity of disturbance. We describe variability in soil organic carbon (SOC) and root biomass—sampled from 0–170 cm and 0–100 cm, respectively—in terms of soil properties, land-use history, current management, and plant community composition using linear regression and multivariate ordination. Despite consistency in average values of SOC and root biomass between our data and data from rangelands worldwide, broad ranges in root biomass and SOC in our data suggest these variables are affected by other site-specific factors. Pastures with a recent history of severe grazing had reduced root biomass and greater bulk density. Ordination suggests greater exotic species richness is associated with lower root biomass but the relationship was not apparent when an invasive species of management concern was specifically tested. We discuss how unexplained variability in belowground properties can complicate measurement and prediction of ecosystem processes such as carbon sequestration.